“It’s not you, it’s Cambodia”: Siem Reap, Angkor Twat & Failed Relationships

The train I had taken with my girlfriend from Bangkok to the Cambodian border was long, hot, and involved a young Muslim Thai boy sleeping on my shoulder for about six hours. I also couldn’t eat anything because I thought that all the food had meat in it and that’s one area I’m mad childish about. I’ve since committed to avoiding long train rides in non-vegetarian countries.

Between the two borders there is a fucking cesspool of casinos called Poipet where I’m not entirely sure if international law applies. I had read that it was absolute chaos and you were certain to get scammed, robbed, and have your kidneys sold off to a Turkish fella that smelt like onions. My only difficulty was trying to convince the border guard not to stamp the last fresh page in my passport. He did so anyway.

After we were finished, we stood around thinking about how we’d get to Siem Reap, which is famous for two things: having a complex of Hindu temples and being a major party city. We met a couple that turned out to be remarkably similar to us: mixed nationality and living in the Gulf Region. Like us, they were approaching the end of both their holiday and their relationship. I, of course, didn’t know that at the time but later found out from the girl when I ran into her in a bar drunk. Everyone who gets emotional when drunk is at the end of a relationship.

For the months leading up to the holiday, I had been constantly fighting with the missus about everything. I won’t lie, I’m prone to being complacent and pretty non-responsive while in a long term relationship. We were doing long distance as she was in France and I was in the Gulf.

For me, communication in long distance relationships is particularly weird. You’d think that the advent of video calling would ease that but it has only served to allow people to have Skype sex. Texting ends up being the main mode of communication for most people. On a point of principle I don’t use emoticons because I assume my father would view them as an admission of homosexuality. I come across as a cold bastard whenever I write. Perhaps it was not a smart decision in hindsight to communicate like that in a long distance relationship. Not to imply that a couple more smilies would have saved the relationship or anything.

It was the sort of relationship that might have made its way onto Buzzfeed if either of us had bothered to set up an Instagram account. Because she had a relatively high amount of disposable income for someone in Turkey and I get absurd amounts of time off so we just saw each other in different countries every couple of months. From Georgia to Lebanon to Morocco we traveled. She was very funny and everything was kind of perfect until the complacency set in. We had simply taken it for granted that each other was there and neither of us was trying that hard anymore. It had lost its luster. The holiday was meant to regain that lost sense of need.

We were supposed to go to Nepal, which we were both excited about. However, the earthquakes hit and we had to cancel. We only went to Thailand/Cambodia because the flights were cheap and I didn’t feel like spending 60 euro a night to stay in Prague. We used to mock people going to Thailand because it seemed like the place only sex tourists and Australians who shouldn’t have passports visited. We justified it by saying we’d go to Cambodia because they must be better there. We decided that we’d spend most of the week in Siem Reap because it had come highly suggested by my brother, who normally has wonderful taste. More importantly, it was relatively cheap and we figured it might be fun.

We shared a taxi with the couple from the border to Siem Reap. Being an absolute Eastern Europhile, I couldn’t resist asking the girl, who was from the Czech Republic, why Roxette and Depeche Mode were so popular there. Eventually, I got the impression from everyone else in the car that I should just shut up and maybe try to sleep; especially after that shit train ride. When people’s love lives are in tatters they don’t seem to care for banter about the liberalization of radio stations in the former Warsaw Pact countries post-Glasnost. Just some simple love life advice.

Once we arrived, we split from the other couple and went to our hotel. We set out on Siem Reap to get something to eat and get pissed. If you do go, you’re certain to end up at a bar called Angkor Twat (sic), which of course is a reference to the sole reason why anyone comes to this place: the Hindu temples of Angkor Wat. I’d imagine the ambition of this bar was to be the place where anything is possible. People should get loose and wild in this place in such a chaotic fashion that the synergy of human expression will get so great that it will overcome war, the need for visas, and the medical condition commonly known as “the Clap.” This might have happened, I don’t know. I do know however was that I wasn’t feeling very ‘together’ with anyone.

I sat at the table there with my then girlfriend really unsure of what to talk about. I wanted to just joke around but the fact that we both knew it was coming to an end just made normal conversation impossible. Right on the main street, people in colorful clothing danced to top 40 songs. There was a young Cambodian girl selling bracelets that would join in the fun. Perhaps, she saw it as a good way to sell them by engaging tourists but the tourists loved it. They saw her as the perfect accessory to their holiday. A lovely moment to take a picture with a selfie-stick showing you hanging out with one of the locals and partying it balls-to-the-walls. Everything appeared so random, but in reality just seemed the same all over to give the illusion you were having a unique moment.

Siem Reap, with its street vendors, buckets of booze, and plastering of “yolo” everywhere, sets the stage for tourists from Western Europe, North America, and Australia to partake in repetitive acts of hedonism and youthful pleasure. The dancing in the street, the men in flamboyant tank tops that they call “wife-beaters,” and the excessive drinking – not so much to get pissed but to display that you’re having the greatest time of your life – are what you do there. To do else wise is not to be there. It is a shit state of affairs particularly when your love life is collapsing.

Siem Reap is a city that rests on the illusion of fun. The experience itself has already been defined through depiction in media, stories of loose American G.Is looking for loving and dope, and a bunch of other nefarious kicks that thread the fine line between deviant and adventurous. That might have been the case at one time but those days are gone. The only thing up for chance is whether you get an STD if you don’t rock a johnny with some of the local talent.

Everything is organized, managed and, most significantly, owned by some member of the expat community. Street dancing happens in front of the same club night after night. Everyone wants to dress a bit silly. Pleasure in Siem Reap is just performativity. It merely acts to give the illusion of chance while in reality holding a limited sense of enjoyment. It lacks any spontaneity but rather rests on those fumes of time passed. Despite your best attempts to embrace the superficiality of it all, you can’t help but be resigned to the fact that it is empty. It is at its core vacant and barren, unless you’re a good enough sport to at least pretend like you’re having fun. It isn’t too dissimilar to a relationship falling apart.

Like Siem Reap, the last throes of a relationship are halfhearted attempts to express some genuine love and concern while denying that soon enough it will all come to an end. Yes, there are many happy memories, but those memories just serve to remind you that it is time to move on, because that shit isn’t coming back. Unless you are equally vacant and delusional to what is on display in Siem Reap, then you know that is time to just say fuck it. Move on. Delete your music collection and get that Tinder Plus to use while taking a shit.

For both her and I, we could not see ourselves in Cambodia. It didn’t remind us of the joy we had shared together. Instead, it just reinforced all the negatives. Sadly we were there at the very moment we needed to share something to redeem the luster of our love. We had become just like Siem Reap: tired. That moment of salvation just wasn’t there for us.

Eventually, we spent a couple more days there and went back to Thailand. This time we took a plane because, fuck that train. The next day, she left me in our hotel room saying that she didn’t want to be around me; I made her depressed. I called my father and told him that she left. He said just leave it alone. Eventually, she came back and we said goodbye. We said maybe in a couple of months we’d meet up somewhere, but that hasn’t happen yet. Cambodia just wasn’t for us.